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'HE'S JUST SO MUCH FUN TO WATCH'

Flames legend Joey Mullen sings the praises of fellow Lady Byng winner Johnny Gaudreau

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

From afar, the old mini-me master sees plenty to admire in the new updated version.

"He's just so much fun to watch,'' compliments Joe Mullen admiringly, when asked about Johnny Gaudreau. "I don't need to tell you guys in Calgary, you see it every night, but his skill level is tremendous. Sees the ice. Makes players other people can't. Deceptive skater. Thinks the game so well.

"Sure, he's small, slight.

"Then again, so was Gretzky.

"I wasn't the biggest guy, either. I certainly wasn't going to beat anybody up but my revenge was to make it hurt on the scoreboard.

 "Looks like he feels the same way."

Gaudreau simply could not have articulated the mindset any better.

Those Massachusetts winters the pint-sized prodigy from Carney's Point, N.J. spent building his reputation as a Boston College Eagle, all he had to do for inspiration was glance up, because there in the rafters of Kelley Rink on the BC campus is a banner celebrating Mullen's standout career modelling maroon and gold.

"I started hearing about him, along with everybody else, I guess, when he was at BC,'' says Mullen, a superstar right-winger in Calgary for four-and-a-half seasons in the mid-to-late '80s. "They had really good teams there then, always went deep into tournaments.

"Boy, was he dynamic in college. As he is in the pros."

The styles may have been slightly different and the eras were near polar opposites but the two men, Johnny and Mully, share much in common:

Both American-born.

Both Boston College-trained.

Both considered too slight, too small, by many to stand up to the NHL rigours.

And now, both are Lady Byng Trophy winners.

Wednesday in Las Vegas, Gaudreau collected his first chunk of major NHL individual hardware - for gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability - after collecting 18 goals and 63 points while incurring an Original Six-style low of four penalty minutes.

As a Flame, Mullen hauled home the Byng bling first in 1987 after a 47-goal/87-point/14-PIM season, then again two summers later for a first All-Star Team 51-goal/110-point/16-PIM turn.

"One year,'' reminisces Mullen, "Stan Mikita gave me the trophy.

"I was actually sitting next to him in the audience, chit-chatting. I had no idea he'd be the guy handing out the award.

"That was memorable because he was some I used to follow, to look up to, as a kid. It was great to finally meet him and get the chance to talk to him. So pretty cool.

"The other time, Mike Bossy presented the trophy to me.

"Not bad company, huh? Kinda thrilling when guys like that are handing you awards."

Mullen remains the only two-time Flames' winner of the Byng. But Gaudreau has some time to catch up.

"Mully,'' once lauded former teammate Brad McCrimmon, "spent a career excelling in areas of the ice a lot of guys wouldn't visit on threat of death. Great balance on his skates. Great desire. Great teammate.

"A little guy with big talent and a huge heart."

A player, and a career, for someone like Johnny Gaudreau to aspire to.

"From what I've seen - and I don't see him as much as I'd like - he gets to the dirty areas, too,'' says Mullen, the product from New York's hardscrabble Hell's Kitchen neighborhood. "And while he's usually going around guys with his quickness, he can go through them, too, from time to time.

"You can't score goals unless you do.

"I think being tough is a state of mind. I don't get to see him as much as I'd like, being out east but when I do I'm always impressed.

"He's guy's one of the best small players to come along in a long time. Reminds me a lot of Cliff Ronning, that type of player."

Being a Joe Mullen type of player, it goes without saying, isn't a bad thing, either.

Who on Earth wouldn't mind a career of over 1,000 games, 1,000 points, 500 goals, three Stanley Cup rings and room rent-free in the Hockey Hall of Fame?

"It's a great honour, to win the Lady Byng,'' says Mullen. "I felt that way when I did and I'm pretty sure he does now, too.

"I'm happy for him.

"And the great thing is that he's only really getting started."

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